As fantasy football fans, we understand how vital the trenches are to the game, but it is often an overlooked area in fantasy analysis. The battles in the trenches are so critical to the success or failure of quarterbacks and their respective offenses. Since we care about the success of our offensive fantasy options, we should also care about changes in their foundation as much as we care about things like target share, air yards, etc.
This is a high-level look at the changes in the offensive line personnel on teams that were bottom 10 in collective offensive line grades per PFF and Football Outsiders offensive line ranking in run blocking and pass blocking. We will look at the changes and grade the moves in an ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ fashion for both the running and passing game. A grade of ‘A’ means associated players are a significant step up in stock while a grade of ‘C’ is more of a lateral move, and therefore no real expectations of improvement.
New York Giants
While it is unclear how well their skill sets will translate, if the rookie tackles Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart can translate their abilities, they could supplant their veteran counterparts. Nate Solder and Mike Remmers (who has moved on to the Chiefs) both had middling performances in the run game. Andrew Thomas, drafted 4th overall in 2020, appears to be a solution for the gap left by Remmers on the right. While Peart is behind Solder on the depth chart, the tape tells on Solder who is shed too easily and struggles w/ reach blocks. These struggles explain why the Giants seldom run to his side (half as much as they run to the right).
Thomas is touted as a people mover with great play strength, and Peart (#65 in the above clip) is light on his feet with better hands to maintain control. Peart looks like he could be a serious threat to Solder. He displays a consistency to gain control with confidence.
Daniel Jones owners, and the Giants organization alike, hope this protection gives Jones the confidence to go through his progressions with more calm and confidence. We could assume stock up for the passing game, but it will depend on Jones to reduce that drive-killing tendency to put the ball on the ground. As for the running game, is the best yet to come from Saquon in his 3rd season? If Peart supplants Solder, maybe Hernandez can elevate his run blocking to the level of his pass blocking. This kind of improvement could boost Barkley’s output on the left side. Only time will tell if Peart is up to the task of supplanting Solder.
Passing Game: B
Running Game: A
New York Jets
Staying in the same city, the Jets did a major overhaul of their offensive line this offseason losing both tackles, rectifying their deficiencies at the center position, and upgrading at guard.
With the acquisition of Connor McGovern in free agency, the Jets upgraded the pass protection up the middle by 30 points on PFF’s grading scale. The tackles are being replaced by two rookies: Mekhi Becton (above GIF) and Cameron Clark. Becton’s skillset boasts quickness and play strength, but his feet and technique could use some work so that he doesn’t have to rely on raw strength. For Clark, he is an anomaly as a small school product that is not a “project” while being touted as technically sound.
What the alignment will look like with all of these new pieces is yet to be seen, but the biggest question is where will each of these rookie tackles play. Both rookies played left tackle in college; Becton has played both sides, and Clark only played on the left. The depth chart indicates the want to keep Clark on the left side of the line by kicking him inside to left guard. This is probably due to his lesser hip mobility and obvious lower draft pedigree. Greg Van Roten was acquired in free agency having previously played guard for Carolina. Chuma Edoga is currently ahead of him, but if Van Roten’s grades translate to tackle, he should quickly beat out Edoga.
All of these changes project to be upgrades in run blocking over the 2019 configuration of the line, which may give Le’Veon Bell additional upside this season. He may be worth a buy if you are in a championship window. These moves also significantly improve the passing game, assuming rookie skillsets translate, and chemistry develops along the line. A Sam Darnold that doesn’t have to run for his life constantly is a Sam Darnold that will take advantage of his gunslinger attitude, which will be sure to raise the boats of Breshad Perriman and exciting rookie Denzel Mims.
Darnold’s value is low compared to top QB options and could dip in the early part of the season. With COVID-19’s effect on off-season activities, the line’s chemistry may take the first quarter of the season to develop. If the Jets fall short this season, Gase will likely exit stage left, and Joe Douglas probably has a guy or two in mind to coach this franchise to more prosperous days. Therefore acquisitions of Jets skill players will require a little bit of a taste for risk and patience to taste the fruits of both.
Passing Game: A
Running Game: A
Jonah Williams was out for 2019 with shoulder surgery, and he was one of the better offensive line prospects in the 2019 draft (88.6 pass-blocking grade, 83.6 for the run). Snagging Xavier Su’a-Filo in free agency should help shore up the guard position in replacement of John Miller. Su’a-Filo is a people mover in the middle of the line who has a good ability to get second-level blocks and finishes most blocks with nastiness. The Bengals appear to feel comfortable with the tackle position, only adding some depth in free agency.
What does this mean for Bengals fantasy value? The hope is the return of Williams, and improved guard play will provide rookie Joe Burrow with the necessary protection to grow confidence through his NFL baptism. A healthy A.J. Green and savvy slot receiver Tyler Boyd are sure to provide Burrow reliable targets to thrive.
The question most of us are more interested in is, “How will Mixon benefit?” The tape all but promises an upgrade to the interior trenches will help him, and the return of Williams should help Mixon exploit the left edge even more so than they did last season (6th ALY on left end per Football Outsiders). The Bengals still need Michael Jordan to step up opposite of Su’a-Filo to shore up the interior, but the off-tackle runs to the right side should improve in ALY from 25th. We must remember that even with subpar players on the O-line, Mixon was a top-10 rusher in 2019. Any improvements to the line can only help.
Passing Game: B
Running Game: B
The PFF grades indicate glaring issues at the guard position with PFF grades under 48 in the passing and running game. The Dolphins drafted two guards, one in the second round and the other in the fourth. Robert Hunt graded out as a monster in the run game and pretty good in pass blocking. He also has tackle experience and fared well on the right side of the line. Solomon Kindle, while not as dominant as Hunt, still looks to provide an upgrade at guard with run and pass blocking grades in the 70s. The draft capital of the Dolphins 2020 draft haul was Austin Jackson at 18th overall.
Austin Jackson is a bit of a project which demonstrates the shallow nature of the tackle position in this class. As the third tackle off the board, he will sit behind Julie’n Davenport, probably for some time. Kindley will have to compete with Ereck Flowers, who is still a significant upgrade from Michael Deiter. Deiter will initially hold the job for the right guard slot in front of Hunt, but if Hunt’s grades from Louisiana translate, he should take over much sooner than any of the Dolphins rookie offensive linemen this season.
While the Dolphins surely were aggressively attacking their offensive line needs, only Hunt appears to be the only acquisition who has a chance to contribute immediately. This means the tackle position is the same as last season, which means the pass protection will still struggle on the edge. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown that he can find a way to thrive with subpar pass protection, which means we could look for the same value out of DeVante Parker and Preston Williams. If rookie Tua Tagovailoa is thrust in immediately, the combination of shoddy protection plus the rookie quarterback learning curve gives cause for pause on the pass game upside.
As for Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, Howard is the better interior runner, and the upgrades at the interior line should facilitate his success. Breida’s ability in space will surely be utilized in the passing game for which my confidence rises and falls with the QB.
Passing Game: C
Running Game: B
The Seahawks did not appear to attack their offensive line deficiencies in the run game as aggressively as one would think, looking at their PFF grades. This speaks to their faith in Ethan Pocic, who lost most of 2019 to injury. The Seahawks may prefer to bolster the run up the middle, and that is evident in their selection of LSU’s right guard, Damien Lewis (above). Just watching the tape, Lewis is an effective run blocker who rarely loses control of his opponent in one on one drive blocks and very good in combo blocks. He will have to beat out Phil Haynes for the position as he is currently listed on the depth chart ahead of him.
Run blocking wasn’t the Seahawks issue last season. The reason the Seahawks are even being discussed is that Seattle was bottom team per collective PFF pass-blocking grades and Football Outsiders pass blocking metrics. Seattle is lucky they have a quarterback like Russell Wilson, and upgrading the pass blocking capabilities could elevate the offense to a new level. If Lewis can crack the starting lineup, he will contribute here with his outstanding balance, play strength, anchor, and good use of hands. Looking at the play above, we can see all of that come together as he anchors and recovers from what looks like an initial loss. He was definitely a contributing factor to LSU’s success.
They did go after the tackle position in free agency to shore up the position opposite Duane Brown. Seattle is indicating through those free agency acquisitions (like Brandon Shell and Cedric Ogbuehi) that they plan to let competition fuel improvement at the position now that Germain Ifedi left to play for Chicago. Of all the teams in this article, these appear to be the most lateral and least aggressive of off-season moves, with the exception of Lewis.
The upgrade with Lewis alone could be enough to give Wilson more pocket time. Wilson could become much more dangerous with extra time to look for dynamic targets like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. If they can shore up the right tackle position with the acquired free agents then there is some upside in both the pass and the run stand to gain.
Passing Game: B
Running Game: B
Teddy Bridgewater finally gets his shot, and Carolina is trying to give the Teddy experiment the best possible shot at success. While they neglected to go after a center, they got Russell Okung in free agency at tackle, which was sorely needed as Dennis Daley and Greg Little were not getting it done. Additionally, the Panthers lost their top three guards, including Greg Van Roten, Daryl Williams, and Trai Turner in free agency, who have been replaced by free agents Michael Schofield III and John Miller.
Christian McCaffrey’s production seems independent of the offensive line performance, more so than many other running backs. Bridgewater is sure to seek him out as the safety-valve option. DJ Moore should be the primary focus of the non-RB related passing game, and Okung’s presence will facilitate a calm pocket for Bridgewater to find his likely first read. That same time could also be used to find his speedy receivers on the outside in Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson on deep targets.
Another off-season acquisition could be further evidence that the Panthers are doing everything they can to help Teddy. John Miller played guard for Bridgewater at Louisville and should be able to give him a little more comfort in familiarity. Opposite him, Schofield will provide good pass protection, essentially replacing Van Roten’s performance from last season, but per the depth chart, it appears he will at least have to compete with Dennis Daley. Perhaps Daley is much better at guard than he was at tackle, but if pass protection is the priority, Schofield should win out.
Based on the acquisitions and the disparity between the run and pass blocking grades for each, it demonstrates a concerted effort to give Teddy all the protection that he needs. What if Teddy’s injury in 2016 simply put a pause on his career trajectory? What if he is the answer that Minnesota saw initially coming out of college? Carolina has done almost everything they could to give him a fair shot.
Passing Game: A
Running Game: N/A
As we make moves in dynasty, it is essential to include all the proper context. Context applies whether our foundation for dynasty decisions is film, analytics, or (hopefully) both. Context could include things like competition level, injuries, and matchups. Let’s be sure to include the context of offensive line play to make better projections.
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